North Korea’s weapons programs comes at the expense of its people

This week’s Rodong Sinmun showed Kim Jong Un inspecting a newly-built submarine and providing guidance during the demonstration of a new tactical guided weapon.

During the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il eras, North Korea never publicly revealed its submarine construction programs. As a matter of fact, the public disclosure of submarines in advance is generally avoided by governments as they are strategic weapons. After seeing Kim Jong Un’s visit to the facility for the newly built submarine, it appeared that North Korea must have gained a lot of confidence in the sector to make such a public show.

Initially, I was also surprised with the new submarine. However, further information came to light and some experts claimed that it is actually a decommissioned Russian submarine, which North Korea bought cheaply and has modified to house a missile tube.

Upon closer inspection of a photo of the submarine’s outer hull, a dent is apparent. Naval analysts have said that welders in North Korea’s munitions industry would not purposely weld a dent into the submarine’s outer hull as the wall must withstand considerable pressure underwater. It is therefore believed that the submarine’s outer hull was pushed inward by underwater pressure during normal operations.

Korea Defense & Security Forum’s director of external cooperation pointed out that it is possible that the country modified a used Russian submarine to enable it to launch a missile, as Russian submarines are double-hulled to withstand a torpedo attack and their outer hulls are often indented from external pressure.

Nonetheless, North Korea is known to be building a 3000 ton-class submarine that can carry several missiles. During the recent testing of some new guided weapons, Kim Jong Un told nearby officials to develop “more strategic and tactical weapon systems”. In North Korea, “tactical weapons” refer to those aimed at South Korea and strategic weapons refer to those that can directly threaten the US, including nuclear warheads, ICBMs and submarines.

After Kim Jong Un’s declaration of victory for the Byungjin Line (the country’s policy focusing on simultaneous development of the military and the economy) and announcement that the regime would concentrate on developing the economy at the Workers’ Party plenum meeting on April 20, many expressed relief at the promise of investment into the economy at the national level.

However, North Korea’s submarine program suggests that it is seeking to develop Russia’s Iskander ballistic missile system, possessed by only a handful of nations, showing that the regime is still heavily investing in strategic weapons despite declaring victory for the Byungjin Line.

In a country where the Supreme Leader wields absolute power, the state’s resources can be freely spent on such programs without regard for the people’s livelihoods, collective compromise or discussion.

North Korea cannot even adequately supply electricity to its population or resolve its chronic food shortages. Yet the country’s residents have no choice but to tighten their belts and continue with this arduous march.

*Views expressed in Guest Columns do not necessarily reflect those of Daily NK.

*Translated by Yongmin Lee